Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
(22 May 1859 - 7 Jul 1930)
Minutes of Evidence Taken Before the Select Committee on the
Daylight Saving Bill
in Parliament on 16 Jun 1908
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
[p.116] [Chairman’s questions in italics, followed by answers by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.]
I suppose you have, in common with the general population, taken some interest in the provisions of this Bill?
Will you kindly oblige the Committee by developing your views as to the general scope of it?
I think, speaking generally, that it makes for the health and the happiness of the majority of the community. It seems to me that. especially in the case of children—to give them an hour’s more daylight is a very important matter. In the morning it could not matter to them going to school an hour earlier, whereas to have an hour during the day in which they could play and get fresh air is of enormous importance, just at that time, to health. I think the next generation of Britishers would be the better for having had this extra hour in their childhood. I think the general standard —probably of health and of stature—would be perceptibly increased by it, and I think for the adult it is a splendid thing for every man in summer to get back to his home in time to look after his little garden, or whatever his particular hobby might be, after his day’s work. I think it would make for the happiness of family life if the head of the family could take his wife and children for some little excursion on an ordinary day—whereas at present his time is so limited by the time he gets back home that it is hardly practicable. I think in a thousand ways it would act for good, and, as far as I can see, the objections to the contrary, however valid they may be, are still in a very great minority as compared with the points one might put forward of advantage.1
Have you considered the effect it would have upon the increased opportunities of enabling people to go in for musketry firing—volunteering?
I think that would be one of the many excellent by-products of the Bill—that there would be time for civilians to learn rifle shooting—which might perhaps get over some of our military difficulties.
Could you tell the Committee your view as regards the method of altering the clock suggested by the Bill?
I read Mr. Willet’s views with some care2. I could not quite understand that there was any particular reason for four 20 minutes—no doubt he had something in his mind when he wrote it—no doubt there was some reason for it; but it struck me on simply reading it that a single alteration of an hour would be a round number, and cause less confusion and attain almost the same result.3
His view, of course, is on record; that is, that where people forget to make the necessary adjustment, the mistake of an hour would be a far more serious matter than a mistake of 20 minutes —that there is no magic in four alterations of the clock—or practically eight alterations—in fact, that is one of the points about which considerable difference of opinion has been elicited from witnesses who had come to give evidence before us; so that we might take it that your view is that an alteration of one hour—an alteration all at once— would be a far moie desirable thing than a gradual alteration?
I speak with no authority about this, but it struck me on reading it; it seems simpler.
On the face of it, it would seem obviously so?
Obviously simpler, I think.
Could you say whether that alteration of an hour should be a permanent one, or should be gone back upon in the autumn?
It struck me that when the time came for putting the clock right again there would be very general dissatisfaction. Everybody would have fitted in by that time with the new arrangement, and they would not at all like to go back to the old system, which would have given them less daylight for 10 months in the year, and under the new system I should imagine one would have more daylight than under the old.
It has been suggested that if you have this hour alteration permanent you would, to a great extent, neutralise the advantages which would be gained during the summer months from the operation of the Bill, that in some instances people would have got so used to early rising and going to bed late that a good deal of the work might be performed by artificial light, instead of by daylight. As far as we have dealt with the subject, have you any views to offer about that?
I never thought of that side of the question really—it is quite new to me.
I suppose you have travelled a good deal?
Yes, I have travelled a good deal in my life.
So that the minor inconveniences resulting from more or less frequent alteration of the clock do not strike you as being worthy of consideration?
Well, I have travelled in the Arctic seas, where there was six months’ daylight without any dark at all—that is the other extreme.
[p.117] Have you travelled throughout the length and breadth of the American Continent?
Yes, I have travelled in America.
There, three different standard times exist?
Yes, quite so.
You have not heard that that causes any inconvenience to anybody, have you?
No, I do not think so—one takes it as a matter of course.
[Questions in italics now come from Mr. Robert Pearce,]
Assuming that the “hour” change was made, have you thought what particular day would be the best upon which to make it, in the spring?
It struck me that it ought to be some very well marked day, either the first of the month or the first Sunday in the month—possibly the first Sunday in March—that that would be the best.
Let us examine what that means for a moment. The object of this Bill is to use more of the daylight than is at present used?
The latter end of March we get the equinoxes?
Yes, the latter end of March.
In the East and all over the world, if you alter the hour by the equinox, you take the morning to begin work and work into the darkness, is that so?
I see. I really never thought the date out with any care.
Suppose I put it to you that railway companies and other institutions—other services —thought that the latter end of April, or the last Sunday in April, was the best day for the change of one hour, would you be disposed to agree with that?
I think if you could conciliate opposition it would be worth while doing it.
The only object is to secure the use of more daylight?
Therefore, there would be no use altering our present time practice in the winter months?
In fact that would be a detriment to the purpose if we took and worked into times of darkness, so that that suggests, does it not, that we should revert to that “hour” at some time in the course of the autumn?
Have you thought when the best time in the autumn would be—may I put it to you, for instance, the first Sunday in September?
I suppose if one got six months of the improved time it would be as much as one could hope for.
Would not the increased daylight, between the last Sunday of April and the first Sunday in September, be as much as we could make fair use of?
That would only give 4½ months, would it not?
You would like to have more?
I should like to have six months at least—I think that would be better.
Just as a mere matter of curiosity, how did you regulate your work in the Arctic regions in the six months of daylight?
Occasionally we turned day into night deliberately—we occasionally had breakfast at supper time, and inverted the whole thing—the night in some way was pleasanter than the day—the light was more mellow.
In spite of the daylight, then, you practically kept clock time?
We kept clock time undoubtedly.
Both for your work and other work?
[Questions in italics now come from Mr. Holt.]
I gather from what you originally said your first idea was that it would be a good thing to adopt mid-European time—that is, permanently make our clocks an hour earlier?
I suppose mid-European time would just about make the difference of one hour.
That is so?
I did not commit myself to “permanently” because I really had not thought it out very carefully; my idea was that something between six and eight months would be practical; I think that would carry the clock over well into artificial light.
You did, I think, rather suggest this: that when people had enjoyed two or three months of this altered clock they would be so pleased that they would never let you alter it back again?
I think they would want another month or two. I do not know about “permanency.”
The great advantage that you estimate would be obtained from this was, as you suggested, that children would get more daylight, and that that would improve the physical stature of the nation; that is what you said?
That was one point.
What do you think would be the effect upon small children three or four years of age? Do not you think it is probable the effect would be to postpone their bed-time in the case of the working classes, where there is only the father and mother to look after them?
I hope not; I do not think one need fear that.
If the father and mother are going to enjoy with the other children this additional daylight and going to stay out of doors and disport themselves, is not it probable that the very small children would be kept out of bed an undue length of time?
Well, after all, it is only an hour, is it not? I do not think it would be any very serious detriment to them.
You do not think it would do them the smallest harm?
Even presuming that in a certain number of cases it occurred, I should not think an hour’s shortage of sleep in the case of a little child would do it any great harm; probably the child would make it up in the morning or during the day.
This time of the year in the North of England you would not say it was dark before half-past nine or 10 o’clock, would you?
No, I suppose about half-past nine at present.
Is not that long enough for most people?
We are just at Midsummer at the present moment, and, of course, the argument lies just at present, but it makes a great deal of difference six weeks before or six weeks after Midsummer.
Yes, that is the time it really makes the difference, in May and August?
Yes, that is so.
[The Witness withdrew.]
2 The idea of British Summer Time was advocated by William Willett. He was a keen horse-rider who felt useful hours of daylight at the beginning of the day were being wasted during summer when people awoke at the same time on the clock as in winter (left unchanged). In 1907 he promoted a time-shift scheme by publishing a pamphlet, The Waste of Daylight in 1907. He died in 1915, the year before his idea was eventually adopted by the British Parliament as a measure to save fuel during World War I.
3 Willett’s published idea was more complex than a simple one-hour change. He wrote to “propose that at 2 a.m. on each of four Sunday mornings in April, standard time shall advance 20 minutes; and on each of four Sundays in September, shall recede 20 minutes, or in other words that for eight Sundays of 24 hours each, we shall substitute four, each 20 minutes less than 24 hours, and four each 20 minutes more than 24 hours.”
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